Annie Morrison

Students take salmon campaign statewide

July 2012 - From Pocatello to Coeur d’Alene, Boise to Redfish Lake, two College of Idaho students are crossing the state this summer to introduce Idahoans to Lonesome Larry – dubbed the most interesting fish in the world. 

Lonesome Larry’s story is both heroic and tragic said Annie Morrison, a senior environmental studies major who is leading the Idaho Rivers United-sponsored education campaign with classmate Joe Pickett, a senior mathematics and physical sciences major.

Twenty years ago, Lonesome Larry was the only sockeye salmon who survived 16 dam crossings and returned to spawn in Redfish Lake.  Lonesome Larry’s story highlighted the decline of Idaho’s native salmon, so bountiful that early settlers named the lake for the fish that turned its surface red.

“For his 20-year anniversary, IRU is sending Joe and me all around the state to talk to people about the issues affecting wild salmon and about why wild salmon are important,” Morrison said. “Salmon are still very, very endangered. When something is a problem for so long, people tend to forget about it, so the idea is to keep it fresh and keep people caring.”

As part of the campaign, Morrison dresses up as Lonesome Larry in a giant sockeye salmon suit as they talk to Idahoans at some of the state’s most famous landmarks and popular festivals. Their adventures – while perhaps not as harrowing as Lonesome Larry’s journey to and from the Pacific Ocean – are being documented on Lonesome Larry’s official blog at http://lonesomelarry.org/index.php/larry-in-action.

Since late May, the pair have taken Lonesome Larry on a visit to the Idaho Potato Museum in Blackfoot, walked in Hailey’s Fourth of July Parade, played beach volleyball at Payette Lake and met anglers fishing for Chinook salmon on the Little Salmon River near Riggins.

One of Morrison’s favorite stops so far has been the Weiser Fiddle Festival.

“I rode on a mechanical bull in the salmon outfit and got a picture taken with some of the fiddlers who Joe actually knew,” Morrison said.

Pickett, who takes photos and talks to people about issues affecting salmon during Lonesome Larry’s appearances, grew up in a ranching family in Midvale. During his youth, Pickett remembers his grandfather talking about how salmon used to come up the river near their home before any dams were built. When Pickett came to the C of I, he took an Idaho natural history course and learned more about the decline of the state’s native salmon population.

“The more I learned, the more I realized how important salmon are to Idaho,” Pickett said. “I think that my background growing up on a ranch helps me talk to people on both sides of the issue, because some of these dams are used for irrigation.”

Bill Sedivy, executive director of Idaho Rivers United, said Morrison and Pickett are playing a key role in the organization’s two-year Wild Salmon Legacy campaign.

“Annie and Joe have become really conversant in the history of salmon in Idaho and why they are so important to our state’s ecology and economy,” Sedivy said. “They’re running the Lonesome Larry campaign with tremendous energy and a lot of passion. We’re really thrilled with how they are reaching out and connecting with people across the state so that we educate the next generation of salmon advocates.”

Morrison and Pickett join a long list of C of I students who have worked with Idaho Rivers United in recent years,  Sedivy said, including a recent graduate who is doing an internship supporting the organization’s Boise River education campaign.

“College of Idaho students come to us ready to work,” Sedivy said. “They’re incredibly well-rounded individuals, they’re well read and up on current events, and to a person they are all excellent communicators.”

Morrison and Pickett will continue introducing Lonesome Larry to Idahoans through the end of August, culminating with the Sawtooth Salmon Festival on Aug. 25 in Stanley.  More information about the festival is available at www.sawtoothsalmonfestival.com. 

For Morrison, getting more people interested in preserving one of Idaho’s natural treasures has been truly rewarding, and the experience has increased her ability to approach and connect with people.

"It takes some guts to put on the suit that first time, but I really enjoy it,” she said. “I love talking to people about protecting our environment and you have an excuse to talk with everyone when you’re wearing a fish suit.”